In this week’s #prodmgmttalk (a weekly virtual twitter discussion/gathering of people who identify as professional product managers and product marketing managers, globally, held on Mondays) I contributed through a comment that said “trust can be earned after credibility is established”. I applaud Jim Holland for leading this discussion amongst the community following his blog on the subject. And, I wanted to explain my contribution in a bit more detail.
Credibility is an essential element when speaking with others, when trying to explain a salient point, defend a problem for feature consideration, or offer a presentation to justify a business case or investment. Credibility is necessary regardless the audience.
By learning your market and becoming a market authority, credibility can begin to be established. There is an argument that says that you are hired by your company based on previous industry experience. However, I take the other side (and have offered that position in the past on this site,) and strongly believe that since research is a strong suit of professional product people, it is important for all PMs/PMMs to get out of the office and immerse themselves in the market – gaining that credibility first hand from multiple discussions with multiple customers, and importantly non-customers too. All too often, incumbents, whether they have been in the role a long time or come to a new job from a competitor have preconceived notions that they tend to inflict on the market and they may be faulty (think New Coke). Only by listening, gathering market facts, debating and listening more, can the product manager truly gain independent and accurate market knowledge, understanding and credibility.
Once the market knowledge has been learned, it needs to be expressed. This is where you build the credibility; the credibility that will develop trust. By learning the knowledge, I don’t mean simply retelling the same customer stories at every presentation. I mean, learn the market problems. Take your learning to a new level of understanding. During the same twitter discussion I said the difference is between being able to repeat it versus being able to explain it. And, that explanation comes with an element of empathy. If you can’t empathize with your market problems, how can you really understand the functionality that will help solve the problem? If you can’t feel the challenges faced by your buyers, how can you expect to speak in their language and communicate effectively?
It’s the empathy and understanding that build trust. The trust will be earned because you can show compassion – professionally – for the problems you are solving. You can explain these problems without telling the same stories every time, because you can make the challenge relevant to who is in your audience and listening. You will have gained that market authority because you have the credibility and the trust.
Think of credibility as your listener thinking to himself (hmm, she was right once)… trust comes later after you’ve been proven “right” multiple times.
Albert Einstein said it best, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” You need to be able to understand it so well, that you can explain it to your executive team in a way that is compelling enough to change some long-held (and possibly incorrect) opinions.
Looking in from the outside, there is no trust without credibility. And, market authority doesn’t exist without both.